Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: "How To Train Your Dragon"

Well it finally happened. Dreamworks Animation finally nailed it. Kung Fu Panda set the bar for the studio as far as I'm concerned, and How to Train Your Dragon raised it.

I feel I should preface this by saying that I had no idea what to expect going into this movie. I hadn't seen many ads or any trailers for it, and barely knew it existed until just a few months ago. I knew nothing of the plot aside from the fact that there were vikings and dragons, and everything I'd seen looked pretty fun and silly. I didn't know Chris Sanders and Dean DeBloise (whose work you might know from Lilo and Stitch-- which I will coincidentally be writing about in my feminism in animation series) were the co-writers and directors, I didn't know anything about the voice casting (surprisingly and refreshingly skimpy on the celebrity names), and I sure didn't expect it to be so moving. Directors like Sanders and Dean, and Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) keep treating their audiences like they actually have brains and emotional intellect, and have studios capable of producing animation quality that backs those things up, hopefully more animation directors will follow suit.

So, having gone into the movie with very little in the way of expectations other than maybe some silly comedy and lots of wisecracks-- it's Dreamworks, after all, that's usually what they base their movies around-- I was not prepared for the movie I actually saw. It had its funny moments, certainly, with nary a fart joke or pop culture reference to be found, but it wasn't a wacky comedy like what I'd been expecting. The story itself is really basic, and yeah there are loads of predictable tropes like 'the coming of age story', 'the geeky guy likes the popular girl', 'a boy and his dog', 'teenager emotionally estranged from parent/s who don't understand him', 'the dork who doesn't fit in because he's too different', and so on. And yeah, one of the big underlying messages of the movie is the typical 'just be true to yourself', but it's actually really underplayed in favor of something that usually gets less focus: 'learning to understand something differently'.

The main character, Hiccup, is from a tribe of Vikings (who speak with Scottish accents for some reason) who raise sheep, build houses, and kill dragons. Mostly the latter, although the house building is tied in with that as well. Their village is constantly raided by dragons who carry off their sheep, and the Vikings are experienced enough with killing them that they have some classifications and techniques for each species, and even have a right of passage tradition that involves training to fight and eventually kill them. Hiccup, a small, skinny teenager who isn't understood or respected by anyone, especially his father, the village leader and big brawny tough guy, wants more than anything to kill a dragon and earn some respect and affection. He isn't strong enough to wield his own weapon, but he's clever enough to design a catapult to do it for him, and manages to down a member of the most mysterious and enigmatic of the dragon species, the Night Fury. When he finally finds the injured dragon, he finds he can't bring himself to kill it, and instead starts observing and eventually befriending it. What he learns about dragon behavior is often at direct odds with what he's being taught in dragon training, but through his understanding of dragon behavior, he's able to rise to the top his class despite his complete lack of warrior prowess.

Meanwhile, he's also figured out how to repair the injury to the dragon-- now named Toothless-- which is able to properly fly again with teamwork. The flight scenes are amazingly well-done, not only because they're beautiful in and of themselves, but because they drive home the beauty of the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. We get to experience the exhilaration they both feel at getting to fly right along with them, and the fear they both feel when they fall. Hiccup's actions have made him responsible for Toothless, and Toothless in turn helps validate Hiccup's unconventional ways and gives him a kind of freedom and perspective he couldn't have achieved on his own. Neither one can reach their full potential without the other, and the flight scenes drive that home beautifully without a word.

I also really liked that they didn't shy away from the potential consequences of Hiccup's actions, and there are some surprises toward the end. In retrospect, they probably shouldn't have been as surprising as they were, but at the same time, it happens so rarely in movies for younger audiences-- or even older ones for that matter-- that it took me off guard. There's a more mature sensibility at the heart of the movie that is refreshing in general, and most certainly so for Dreamworks animation. It's a fun movie, but it's not afraid to get into some more serious issues for the sake of more emotional integrity. I highly recommend seeing it, and especially in 3D, which isn't something I typically recommend. I've never seen a movie in 3D in the theater, and I usually don't feel like I'm missing out on that much, but I do regret not seeing this one in it. I actually forgot it was supposed to be in 3D until I was leaving the theater and saw the sign on the poster that said it was in 2D only. No gratuitous things flying toward the camera for the sake of a gimmick, I get the impression this 3D was used intelligently, to heighten the experiences of the characters onscreen for the audience.

So in summary, this movie will likely be compared to a lot of other movies out there. Some of the comparisons will be fair, some will not, but to take the film only on the basis of its tropes (of which there are many) leaves out how those tropes are presented. All movies and stories work with tropes, either by employing them or defying them. It's in the execution that makes the difference as to how an audience will respond to it-- whether attention was paid to the characters and an investment in having the audience care about them is paramount for me. It's clear the filmmakers here cared about Hiccup and Toothless and their bond is the biggest focus in the film. That's why it works as well as it does, and that's why any of it means anything. For me, the execution here was good. They cared about the characters, they cared about what they were trying to say, and they cared about whether or not the audience cared about the same things.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wait, What's Wrong With Being a Girl, Again?

(Not officially a part of my series on feminism in animation, although it certainly applies. Just a quick rant.)

So, as most people who might care probably already know, Disney's changed the title of its upcoming movie Rapunzel to the more gender-neutral Tangled. In and of itself, I guess not that big a deal, it's got a certain catch to it, slightly more engaging to a modern audience since it's an adjective, not a noun. Whatever. But then why did they decide to change the content of the movie too? According to the interviews I've read, they're beefing up the role of the heroic prince guy and giving him lots more action scenes. Okay, I'm all for equal character development (which is not what "swashbuckling action" means, btw), but why are they changing so much so suddenly, and especially less than a year before the movie opens?

"We didn't want to be put in a box," according to Ed Catmull, president of Disney and Pixar's animation department (via the LA Times). "Some people might assume it's a fairy tale for girls when it's not. We make movies to be appreciated and loved by everybody."

Translation: "The Princess and the Frog underperformed (ie: only made ~$220 million worldwide) and like we always do, we're blaming something totally arbitrary on the failure instead of our story department and our marketing strategy."

Remember back when they announced they were closing their traditional animation studios in favor of switching to digital animation? Their reasoning there was that everyone else's CG-animated movies were making money and their traditional ones weren't, therefore it must be that traditional animation as a medium is dead and not that the movies themselves had issues. Only now, instead of blaming traditional animation for the "failure" of their blockbuster movie, they're blaming it on the fact that boys won't go see a movie with the word "princess" in the title.

Or, apparently, "Rapunzel". (Which the semantic in me must point out is a kind of leafy green plant people use in salads, not a fancy word for "princess".)

So now, instead of the method of animation at fault, it's the fact that it's about a girl. I keep forgetting that girls aren't regular people who can be easily identified with by people of either gender, like boys can. See, when you make a movie with a girl in the lead part, and it's about "girl" stuff like romance and magic (as 99% of lead-women movies are), it means it's a "chick flick" and the only acceptable guy audience members are the ones dragged there by their girlfriends and who spend every second of its run-time in sheer emotional anguish. Because everyone knows that girl things are silly and emasculating and real men only tolerate it for the sake of sex.

But when a movie comes out with a guy in the lead and it's about "guy" stuff like adventure and action, it's totally cool for girls to like that, too, because when we say "guy", we really mean "everybody". Because guy stuff is the default, "non-gendered" stuff, and "girl" stuff is for sissy, fluffies who like glitter and shoes. And in case you're confused by that, "glitter" and "shoes" and everything else associated with being feminine are less important, interesting, relevant, and acceptable to enjoy because they are silly and beneath all the relevant "boy" stuff like explosions and car chases.

Thank you, Disney, for reminding me that girls are silly and nobody wants to watch movies about them. It's a really good thing you remembered, too, before releasing another movie that will only make a few hundred million dollars because there wasn't enough boy-time and we all know that the only way to relate to a girl character is to be a girl yourself. I mean it's not like they're real people or anything.

(Just for the sake of clarification: I do not assume this of all males, and in fact I think it's pretty demeaning to assume they're all this shallow, but there's a lot of cultural pressure and influence out there that supports the "girls are silly and you shouldn't like anything aimed at them" mentality. I don't know which I find more insulting, the idea that all guys must think this way, or the fact that there are evidently so many who do. And they're not the only ones! There are loads of girls out there who feel the exact same way due to the same social stigma. I was one of them for a very long time. Hence the bitter.)

(Another clarification: I have big issues with the so-called "chick flicks", too, and the predominance of princesses in animated movies. Not because I think femininity in and of itself is demeaning, but because of how "appropriate" femininity is showcased in them, and the almost complete lack of anything else for female consumers. I'm of the opinion that people who genuinely like the glittery princess thing, rock on. But limiting the idea of "girl" to just that is... limiting. Girls can be foofy princesses, and they can be other things, too! We have LOADS of princesses already, maybe we can explore, I don't know, something else for a change?)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Feminism in Animation: "Disney's Hercules" (the series)

This series really never got the recognition it deserved when it was on back in 1998, and I'm really doubtful that it'll ever make it to DVD despite a fan following and a ton of celebrity voice talent. I found it to be a pretty clever series, especially since I'm a huge fan of Greek mythology and I love that the writers clearly studied it and involved it heavily in the plots of the series. It's not always accurate, of course, since it's Disney and an animated daytime show aimed at children, but they actually got away with a fair amount, and you can tell they went to the myths first. It's actually pretty cool, since the original myths were largely pretty woman-phobic, anyway. Don't believe me? Take a look at all the female monsters those strapping demigod heroes had to go defeat, like gorgons, sirens, harpies, dracaenae, scylla, maenades, sphinx, Amazons, and the list goes on. (Note: I'm not saying all the monsters were female, but there were a lot of them, and there's a lot of symbolism involved in terms of taming/conquering female power, especially sexuality, which actually lines up with the role and treatment of women in ancient Greek society, too.)

The basic premise, as with most Disney TV adaptations of their movies, is setting Hercules (Tate Donovan) in high school during his awkward adolescent phase. Despite being a demi-god and the son of Zeus, he's pretty much a social outcast and his only steady friends are Icarus (French Stewart), the boy who flew too close to the sun on wax wings and who now seems to be permanently fried physically and mentally, and Cassandra (Sandra Bernhard), a pessimistic, sarcastic, and downright acidic young woman who's cursed to have unerring visions of future catastrophe, but who will never be believed if she tries to warn anyone about them. Cassandra alone's a great feminist character because, as might be surmised by the casting choice, she's a smart, outspoken, independent woman with a lot more on her mind than just dating and shopping. In fact she only dates one character in the entire show and that was only for two episodes-- this is in spite of Icarus's conviction that they're a couple and his stalking and obsessive behavior towards her, while not portrayed as anything other than annoying and basically harmless, isn't touted as building up to a true love match for them, either. She rejects him constantly and never capitulates to dating him or seems interested in him in that respect at all, which is nice. In fact, the character she winds up dating is very similar to him in a lot of ways, but importantly, he's not obsessive or clingy or possessive. Of course it's played for laughs and Bernhard goes completely over the top with her syrupy lovesick voice, but I think it's interesting that it seems to be Icarus's stalker-like behavior that's his biggest obstacle with her.

Icarus, for his part, is also pretty cool when not latched onto Cassandra, since he doesn't seem to pay much heed to constructed gender roles at all-- he's often shown to be more creative, nurturing, and domestically-minded, and never self-conscious about it. Of course he's also delusional and often has very bad ideas that get him into trouble, but it's still cool that he's totally at peace with his masculine and feminine sides.

There are several specific episodes that deal directly with feminist issues, especially anytime the Amazon Tempest (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is featured. One episode, The Girdle of Hyppolyte, dealt with Hercules having issues with his “Home Grecinomics” class (ha ha, puns) because he didn't feel like he should have to do “women's work” like cooking. He winds up following Tempest back to her home because he thinks she's in danger and winds up at odds with the Amazonian ruler, Hyppolyte (Jane Curtain). Banished to the kitchen to do “men's work”, he meets Tempest's father, King Darius (Emeril Lagasse) and learns that cooking and homemaking aren't gender-specific, nor are they inherently demeaning. They stay clear of more prickly topics like reinforcing the gender binary and its inherent struggle for dominance, and the idea that homemaking as a full-time job isn't regarded any more highly in the matriarchy than in the patriarchy, but the ideas are in there if anyone stops to read between the lines. Pretty subversive for a daytime animated kid's show.

It also takes on the Pygmalion myth, which has become popularized these days in movies like My Fair Lady and Annie Hall (which is a great movie, by the way). The basic story of the original myth is that the sculptor Pygmalion found every woman he saw to be inadequate next to his idea of what they should be, so sculpts himself his perfect woman. During his sculpting, he becomes so besotted with his creation, Aphrodite takes pity on him and brings the statue Galatea to life. The episode The Dream Date plays on this, even having Pygmalion be the school's art teacher with the improbably attractive wife (who is never named), but instead of a dissatisfaction with women in general, Hercules's problem is his inability to get a date for a school dance. Inspired by the art teacher's story, he sneaks into the art room and sculpts a woman out of clay, hoping to invoke Aphrodite (Lisa Kudrow) to bring her to life so he can have a date. As exacting and specific about what he wants her to be like physically, he is equally as uninterested in her personality, and just asks that she be “crazy about [him]”. Naturally, things go awry when Galatea (Jennifer Aniston) is clingy, obsessive, possessive to the point of violence with any other girl who so much as says boo to him, and even winds up rigging the election for the king and queen of the dance. When Herc tries to break up with her (by restraining her and dropping her on a remote island), she's completely undeterred and makes her way back to the dance. Long story short, the dance is ruined, the building catches on fire, and because she's made of clay, she winds up hardened into a statue. Realizing his mistake with the helpful prodding of his friends (Cassandra even gets to say the word “sexist” in a Disney cartoon), he asks Aphrodite to give Galatea the ability to be her own person, which is granted; however instead of getting the real date he's hoping for, Herc instead gets the very same break-up speech he'd given her earlier in the episode right before she runs off to find “that hunky Ajax”. All in all, the message there is pretty clear, and I think the episode presents it in a fun and not-too preachy way: women are their own people, not soulless dolls for men to use to satisfy their lust with and project their fantasies onto-- and yes, that means that they might choose to date someone else, no matter how nice a guy you might be. Seems simple, right? Sadly, in the words of Aphrodite, “not everyone gets the lesson.”(may be nsfw)

Other notable examples from the show include:

Hecate (Perri Gilpin), a disgruntled Underworld employee who's sick of getting very little recognition for her work and is trying to unseat Hades much the same way Hades is trying to unseat Zeus-- frankly in some ways she may actually be more qualified to run the Underworld than he is, not the least of which because she actually wants the job. She creates the unique situation of putting Hades in a vulnerable and even sympathetic position at times, while at the same time, the viewer can also sympathize with Hecate's frustration at her lack of respect and power. I wish she'd been around more, she was interesting. Episode to try: The Underworld Takeover

Athena (Jane Leeves), as the patron goddess of Athens shows up more than once, and is always amusing since she's usually smarter than anyone in the room, and usually in a competitive relationship with her twin brother Ares (Jay Thomas). I like her because she can compete with him in physical areas (they were both patrons of war and combat), but not at the expense of knowledge, wisdom, and reason. I also like that she seems to love irritating everyone by being a smarty pants a lot. Episode to try: The Big Games

Artemis (Reba Macentire), as the goddess of the hunt, is only in two episodes or so, but is knee-slappingly funny most of the time. Interestingly, the writers dug out this old myth about Orion, the legendary hunter of constellation fame, and she having an affair of some sort, in contrast to her more typical virgin status. But in typical Reba fashion, Artemis is straight-shootin', down-home wisdom, and prone to raising her voice when someone isn't listening to her. Episode to try: The Boar Hunt

Elektra (Jennifer Tilly), interestingly having nothing to do with her mythical counterpart, this Elektra is a goth/beatnik girl that Herc's interested in. The problem is, she hates guys like him and wants nothing to do with him until he starts trying to adopt her counter-culture lifestyle. Oh yeah, and she summons “furies” (bird-like monsters) when she gets angry for some reason. What's interesting about this is that the episode doesn't seem to come down firmly on one side or the other here; she isn't really vilified for her viewpoints, and Herc doesn't seem to learn much of a lesson beyond 'don't pretend to be someone you're not to fit in'. They butt heads constantly about their life views but neither one wins the other over, and they part still not seeing eye to eye, but it's actually a more realistic ending than everyone magically getting along after seeing the error of their ways. Episode to try: The Complex Elektra

Medusa (Jennifer Love Hewett), in a big nod to The Little Mermaid, is a lonely soul who longs for a connection with someone without turning them to stone. When given the choice between a human makeover that lasts from sunup to sundown in exchange for doing work for Hades, or a pair of heart-shaped sunglasses that keep her look from turning things to stone from Aphrodite, she takes what really does seem like the better deal and goes with Hades. She fits in when she goes to school, has friends, gets the start of a romance with Hercules, but after a serious anxiety attack when she hears Herc talk callously about learning to kill gorgons in his training, she decides to tell him who she is. It's an interesting episode and the only one I can recall offhand that focuses more on the emotional journey of a one-shot character than the protagonists. I remember that one being somewhat controversial in the fanbase when it first aired, since some people found Aphrodite's solution to be too optimistic in the face of overwhelming cultural bias against 'monsters', but there is also something to be said for the basic lesson of not trying to pretend to be someone you aren't just to gain acceptance. It's too bad she was only in one episode, since by the end of it, only Hercules was shown to be accepting of her, and it never says what happened after that. Episode to try: The Gorgon

As noted before, this series isn't available on DVD, nor is it likely to be for at least a very long time, if ever. Fortunately, some episodes are available on at least one popular movie sharing online community, and to the best of my knowledge, it's in reruns on one of the Disney channels, although I think some of the episodes have been edited since their initial airing. It's not a perfect show; the animation's pretty hit or miss, and some episodes are definitely better than others, but I thought overall it was pretty clever, especially if you're familiar with Greek mythology and history already. If not, it's a fun introduction, and it's a great way to play 'spot the celebrity guest voice', too.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Feminism in Animation: "Slayers"

This is basically the sum of a bunch of different thoughts I've had bouncing around in my brain for a while. For a while I've been wanting to highlight some media products from Asian cultures, most specifically Japan since it's the one I'm most familiar with, that feature strong feminist themes, and since it's International Women's Day, what better time to kick it off? There's this prevailing idea floating around that Eastern cultures are more “backwards” and oppressive toward women than we are in the West, and while there are certainly problems in Asian countries in regards to gender equality, I really can't say the West is any better in many ways. It's an unfair viewpoint, and I've been wanting to challenge it for a while now, but I also want to talk about some feminist viewpoints from Western media products, specifically in terms of animation. For the purposes of this list, I'm looking specifically at Disney products, since Disney is very often viewed as being un-feminist, which is fair, but that's ignoring the feminist ideas that do exist there as well. So this is my list. It leaves out a bunch, I'm sure, but these are the TV shows, movies, and comics that I'm most familiar with and have the strongest ideas on. My goal here isn't to compare these shows with each other and try to rate how each culture is doing, my goal is simply to examine them in their own rights and maybe provide a different viewpoint or raise awareness of a product that might be less known.

The first anime I ever saw that I actually liked, and to this day I still enjoy it, even the dated parts. Originally based on a series of novels by Kanzaka Hajime with illustrations by Araizumi Rui, Slayers is an epic fantasy adventure story that in part spoofs epic fantasy stories, while at the same time creating its own story with messages all its own. It's a great adventure saga, full of humor, action, at times suspense, and loads of great characters. Kanzaka really created his own world, with its own history, culture, and mythology, and even an intricate and fascinating system of magic, with sub-groups and spells that clearly do their own different things, and that interact with each other in different ways. And at fifteen original novels, and over thirty spin-off novels, not to mention the comics and anime series that spun off from those, there's plenty that gets explored. I especially love that this series is proof that the idea that 'guys don't identify with female protagonists' is bunk because not only is the lead character in this series a female, but the novels are written in first-person perspective. So not only did Kanzaka, a man, write a lead female character convincingly and uncondescendingly, but it became one of the biggest hits of the '90s in Japan, with four TV seasons (to date), countless manga spinoffs, a string of direct-to-DVD releases, successful movies, radio dramas, and hit songs, to say nothing of the merchandise that must have been produced. To this day it has an enduring fanbase, enough to warrant a fourth TV season years after the previous one aired. Lina Inverse is an anime icon because she's a fantastic character, and the series is full of many more.

In the novels Lina describes herself as a petite, brown-haired, brown-eyed girl of fifteen or sixteen who's been traveling for years already-- gradually her hair and eyes were both lightened to a dramatic red, which admittedly does suit her personality more. She's not on some grand quest to save the world-- although she does usually wind up doing it anyway-- she's doing it because she loves adventure, kicking the butts of roving tribes of bandits (and making herself money in the process) and building up her reputation as a sorceress. By the time she's in her mid-teens, her name is already feared far and wide and she's almost a living legend-- although not quite in the way she'd wanted, since her nickname Dra-Mata (“dragon spooker”) is less flattering than her own title of “beautiful sorcery genius”, and she's very often regarded as a public menace. She has an ego the size of a small state, but the thing is, she really is a genius. She is a force of nature to be reckoned with, both in terms of her magical power (which is portrayed literally as an atomic explosion in the anime), but in terms of her personality. She's loud, brash, egotistical, angry, opinionated, educated, fearless, ambitious, greedy, hardworking, adventurous, confident, funny, and totally relentless. And yet, as much as she brags about how gorgeous she is, it overlays this insecurity about her figure, since she's willowy and petite and seems to be surrounded by women far more well-endowed than she is. She's awkward and shy when it comes to things like romance and tries to avoid thinking or talking about it at all, let alone pursuing it. Her temper is legendarily short, and she's been known to blow up entire villages just to let off steam when she gets riled up, which only contributes to her reputation as a menace to society in general. She's very well-versed in magical theory as well as folklore and legends, and will often explain things to less-educated people. She also loves food and has been known to put away as much as twenty helpings in one sitting, which I believe was once attributed to the amount of magic energy she channels on a regular basis. Her abilities with magic, especially black (destructive) magic are astonishing for someone of her age; her signature spell is incredibly powerful, and one only a handful of people in the world know, but there's one even more powerful that she herself managed to figure out on her own that taps into energy so powerful it can destroy the planet if miscast. She's also tactically very savvy and will use creative and unorthodox methods of solving problems and getting out of trouble.

I could go on and on about how much I love her and all her foibles and shortcomings and amazing humanness, but she's also far from the only worthy female character in this series. In Lina's earlier wandering days, she had a sometime traveling companion/rival in Naga the Serpent, another powerful sorceress looking to establish a name for herself-- the fact that the name she establishes is "goldfish poop", after the way she follows Lina around, doesn't seem to slow her down much. Naga is a largely comedic character, with many moments of supreme idiocy (poking her own cheeks with her spiked shoulder pads while casting a spell springing immediately to mind), and an outfit that defies nearly every rule of practicality and common sense, but there's a lot more to her than that. She does come off like an idiot a lot of the time, but I don't think she really is-- she's shown frequently to also be pretty canny and proves a good foil for Lina a lot of the time. She's a skilled magician, especially with nature-related magic, and her blistering confidence and complete lack of self-doubt about anything is really pretty cool when you step back and look at her. The signature laugh that drives sane people mad at the sound is the manifestation of that confidence, and it's what drives her tenacity, her ability to wear that ridiculous outfit without shame, her ambition, and her ability to drive Lina absolutely crazy. It's never directly stated anywhere, but there are big hints dropped that she's actually the older sister of another main character, Amelia, and the crown princess of a very powerful kingdom. She left home after witnessing the murder of her mother, which is why she faints at the sight of blood, and seems to prefer the life of a wandering adventurer to that of being royalty, although she's hardly lost the viewpoint of the upper echelon of society. She is also a woman who loves her alcohol, and delights in stealing Lina's food when the opportunity presents itself.

Amelia Wil Tesla Seillune is the next most prominent female character in the story, especially in the anime. Back when I was first into the series, she was widely despised by the fanbase, and I'm glad to see that's died out now because she's a great character. Amelia is a princess of the kingdom of Seillune, a large and powerful country that specializes in white (protective/healing) magic. The kingdom even has a series of walls built through and around it in the shape of a protective charm. Amelia is a very powerful white magic priestess, but she also has a great deal of proficiency in shaman (nature) magic, which gives her a greater diversity of spells to draw on than Lina in some ways. She's also an accomplished physical fighter, but has an inexplicable need to climb on the top of something tall and give righteous lectures to villains about justice before entering the fight-- also she will frequently fall off the tall things and land on her head, which often ruins much of her credibility as a threat. A year or two younger than Lina, she's a bit shorter than her, but with much more curve in her figure, which a thorn in Lina's side from time to time. Like her other family members, Amelia has a love of adventure and travel, but she also feels a great sense of responsibility to her kingdom, and so frequently returns home to take up her political and diplomatic duties instead. Raised by her father after her mother was murdered when she was small, she has a very strong sense of filial duty, and takes after her father in many ways, not the least of which are exuberance and an iron-clad belief in justice. Once stated that she didn't want to be the princess who gets rescued, but rather the prince who saves the damsel in distress, and very often refers to herself as a warrior of justice. Is probably the most naive character in the entire series, but grows considerably during its course into someone with a lot of sense and diplomacy, an even temper, and a really formidable opponent in both court politics and battle.

Sylphiel Nels Radha is the least like any of the other major female characters in the series. She's the epitome of the “ideal” woman and everything Lina isn't; kind, gentle, nurturing, domestic, beautiful, graceful, soft-spoken, shy, obedient, dutiful, sweet, and friendly. Lina hates her instantly, but that's likely due in large part to Sylphiel's very overt designs on Lina's traveling companion and romantic interest, Gourry, and Lina's own buried insecurities. A very powerful white magic priestess, Sylphiel lives in a legendary city that once saw the destruction of a major demon and is renowned for its holy tree that played a large part in that battle. Though she starts out as the obligatory rival character, she soon starts taking on her own life, after enduring an unimaginable tragedy and playing a very important role in the defeat of a major demon. Little tidbits of her past and hidden parts of her personality are revealed slowly, and they add a nice dimension to her, even though she's still not one of the more well-developed characters in the series. But she serves her purpose well and even offers a number of surprises toward the end of the second anime season that showcase just how far she's willing to push herself for the sake of her own dreams. A character that, similar to her namesake Radha from the Hindu tradition, is completely devoted to the object of her love, but is doomed to a life of loneliness, waiting for the love of a man she'll never get. Even though she knows this, she still doesn't back away, and even then never bears Lina any ill will or overt resentment about it. She brings out the insecurities in Lina as she would in anyone, since she is too good to be real, and yet you can't help but feel badly for her since she's lost everything she cherished and deserves much better than the lot she's been given. She is the character who seems most fragile, and yet is able to endure the unendurable and keep moving forward without losing her kindness.

There are more supporting characters that are worth discussing, as the series ran for a long time and had a huge supporting cast, but these are the major female ones. I love the cast for its diversity, and for the sense of human-ness that abounds in each one of them. Some characters are tragic, some comic, some both, some tomboys, some feminine girls, but none are invalidated or made lesser because of their traits. There was clearly thought put into each of them, and while they might seem on the surface like the embodiment of long-standing tropes, each has qualities that defy their categorizations and raise them up into something more thoughtful and interesting. It's also just a great overall series, full of cosmic battles between Good and Evil, silly side-quests, giant slugs, lots of magic, a little romance here and there, complicated family ties, loads of silly gags, lots of food, and plenty of concussions. I still have fun with it even ten years after the fact.